In the News: Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Romeo et Juliette” Preview (Jan 31, 2014)

For Atlanta Ballet dancer, a dream role as Juliette

Posted: 12:00 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014

BY CYNTHIA BOND PERRY - FOR THE AJC

Before the lovers’ eyes meet, their hands press palm to palm. As Romeo’s fingertips align with Juliette’s, he likens himself to a rough-skinned pilgrim touching a saint’s holy hands. The enraptured teens muse that their hands are like lips that yearn to pray or kiss.

This union of passion and prayer sets the tone in the Atlanta Ballet’s Southern premiere of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Romeo et Juliette.” Based on Shakespeare’s play, it opens Feb. 7 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

+ Atlanta Ballet company dancer Alessa Rogers with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo stager Giovanna Lorenzoni. Rogers at 26 has danced in several key roles in recent Atlanta Ballet productions. Under the tutelage of Giovanna Lorenzoni, instructing her here, Rogers is taking on the role of a confident and fearless Juliette in the troupe’s next production, “Romeo et Juliette.”Atlanta Ballet. Photo by Charlie McCullers. 

It’s a dream role for Alessa Rogers, scheduled to dance as Juliette on opening night.

Maillot’s cinematic vision is stripped of artifice and free of period costumes, sets and props. A strong and confident Juliette leads the love story, her character pulled out through Maillot’s lyricism and emotional tension. Juliette initiates the couple’s first kiss and leads Romeo through their scenes together, said Giovanna Lorenzoni and Asier Uriagereka, who are staging the work for Atlanta Ballet.

“She’s the strength and the musicality,” said Lorenzoni. “He is the lover; she is love.”

 

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo stager Giovanna Lorenzoni with "Romeo et Juliette" cast during rehearsal. Giovanna Lorenzoni saw in dancer Alessa Rogers the right combination of kindness, freshness and youthfulness for the role of Juliette for the Atlanta Ballet’s production of “Romeo et Juliette.” Photo by Charlie McCullers. 

Rogers has danced some of the ballet’s prime roles in recent years, emerging as young Princess Irene in “Twyla Tharp’s The Princess and the Goblin” in 2012. She danced as young Marya in “The Nutcracker” and as Lucy Westenra in Michael Pink’s “Dracula.” It’s the first time the 26-year-old will carry a three-act ballet.

When casting last September, Lorenzoni and Uriagereka saw in Rogers the right combination of kindness, freshness and youthfulness. In and out of the studio, her interactions with colleagues were spontaneous and fearless. It helped that the intense brunette resembled the actress who played Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film version. And the two directors saw Rogers’ potential to become a strong character.

It’s still a big step for the dancer. At Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, where Maillot is artistic director, dancers usually spend a year mastering the role. But Lorenzoni and Uriagereka aim to bring Rogers to that level in just one month.

It’s a lot to do in a short amount of time, but Rogers is eager. “I want them to give me everything they have, and try to turn out my best work,” she said.

In the studio, Lorenzoni reminds Rogers that the characters’ emotions are bound in the choreography. Every action and reaction must be musically precise in order to allow emotions to be real.

Rogers rehearses the balcony scene with Christian Clark as Romeo.

While Sergei Prokofiev’s music plays, by turns languid, mischievous and euphoric, the two rush across the floor, chasing, grasping and pushing away. She turns to embrace him; he ducks. He circles behind her and takes her hands. He switches to her opposite side and thrusts out an open hand. She moves her foot before pivoting and yielding into his arms. They’re like awkward teens unsure of how to touch one another.

Lorenzoni advises Rogers and Clark not to play the duet in a typically romantic way.

“This moment calls for the closeness, vulnerability and tenderness of true love.”

Rogers said such detailed direction is taking her artistry to a new level. “It’s already changed me as a dancer — how I approach roles, how I think in class, how I move my body and listen to music.”

And this enables Rogers to build an emotional trajectory for Juliette.

“She goes from being a younger, more innocent person to knowing what she wants and standing up for herself, and ultimately giving herself to what she believes in, which is Romeo and love,” Rogers said.

“Even though the story is tragic, if they think that the reason behind the tragedy was love and passion, hopefully, (the audience) will come away with a little glimmer in the darkness.”

By the ballet’s end, Rogers hopes audience members will feel and remember “the deepest love that they ever had for somebody” and ask themselves, “Would I do that?”

DANCE PREVIEW

Atlanta Ballet presents Jean-Christophe Maillot’s “Romeo et Juliette.”

Feb. 7-15

8 p.m. Feb. 7, 8, 13, 14 & 15; 2 p.m. Feb. 8 & 9. $21.70-$116.04. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 1-800-982-2787, www.atlantaballet.com.